The final stage of the 2019 OWL season has arrived, and with it comes a heated playoff race. From the top seed in the league to the play-in tournament, virtually nothing is decided at this point. 18 teams still have a shot at the postseason at this point, and with 2-2-2 shaking up the established order, chaos will reign supreme down the stretch. In this weekly series, The Game Haus will cover the standings, highlight the most important games of the week and predict the 12 team playoff field.
The Dogfight for the Top Six
The closest thing to a sure bet when it comes to these playoffs is at the top of the standings. During the first two stages, Vancouver and New York have separated themselves from the pack to such a degree that they’ve all but locked up their respective divisions. It would take a monumental collapse – alongside a perfect stage from Philadelphia or London – for NYXL to fall to second in the Atlantic. For the Titans, their 20-1 record buys them breathing room, but a tough Stage 4 schedule means they can’t let their foot off the gas if they want to stay ahead of the Shock, who have all but secured a top-6 spot of their own.
From there, things get very interesting. Six teams – the Spark, Gladiators, Dynasty, Spitfire, Dragons and Fusion – sit within two games of each other. Only three can make the postseason outright, avoiding the single-elimination play-in tournament. How that shakes out exactly could very well come down to head-to-head matchups. The Dynasty, in particular, will have an outsize role in how things play out since the face Shanghai – twice – and Philly in Stage 4.
Name of the Game: Staying Alive
Moving down the standings, the Dallas Fuel, Atlanta Reign and Chengdu Hunters are currently clinging to the last three play-in spots for dear life. An even map differential and a light Stage 4 filled with Atlantic division opponents give the Reign perhaps the easiest path of that group. Dallas could potentially make a run for the top six, but it would require a sudden turnaround and overcoming a brutal Stage 4 schedule. They’ll need to stave off a hoard of challengers down the stretch. A pack of seven teams sits just one game back of the Fuel, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
In that group are two Stage 3 playoff teams, the Valiant and Outlaws, who are both looking to complete their comebacks after 0-7 stages in 2019. Both were red hot in Stage 3 but have some questions to answer now that 2-2-2 role lock will take away the compositions that fueled their bounce-back stage.
The two teams on the cusp right now – tied with a minus 11 map differential – are the Charge and Hunters. Guangzhou has shown flashes of potential that might finally be realized in 2-2-2 now that their stable of DPS talent is let loose. The Hunters have already been playing a lot of 2-2-2 already, just with their signature Wrecking Ball in the lineup, but how that translates remains to be seen. The teams share five of seven opponents in Stage 4, so their trajectories will be interesting to watch for sure.
Rounding out the playoff picture are three Atlantic teams who have disappointed for most of the season. One strong stage is all it takes, but Boston, Paris and Toronto haven’t exactly inspired much confidence so far. The 3-3 meta wasn’t kind to them, but perhaps a meta shift and some potential roster shuffling will be the answer they’ve all been looking for.
What to Watch For
Philadelphia comes into Week 1 with two games that are essentially must-wins if they want to make the top six. Guangzhou and Chengdu are tricky matchups, but if Jaehyeok “Carpe” Lee and Josue “eqo” Corona can find their 2018 form now that they’re back on DPS, this team becomes an instant contender. If they continue to look as off-kilter as they have all year, they could potentially fall out of the play-ins.
The Shanghai Dragons and Seoul Dynasty face down big weeks as well. They play each other on Sunday after tough tests earlier in the week. Shanghai has a rematch with Vancouver, and Seoul will take on the Shock. Shanghai seems to be firing on all cylinders after a Stage 3 Championship, but their triple DPS lineup is no longer an option. Seoul’s up-and-down season has still left them in control of their playoff destiny, but Stage 4 is filled with tough opponents. A 2-0 start to the stage would go a long way for either team toward earning that coveted top-six spot.
Predicted Playoff Field
Top Six: Vancouver Titans, New York Excelsior, San Francisco Shock, Hangzhou Spark, Los Angeles Gladiators, Shanghai Dragons
Play-In Six: Seoul Dynasty, London Spitfire, Philadelphia Fusion, Los Angeles Valiant, Atlanta Reign, Guangzhou Charge
Missing Out: Dallas Fuel, Chengdu Hunters, Houston Outlaws, Paris Eternal, Boston Uprising, Toronto Defiant, Washington Justice, Florida Mayhem
Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
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